The coronavirus’ spread has started to accelerate in Athens-Clarke County over the past few weeks. On March 15, Athens recorded its first two confirmed COVID-19 cases, and the number of cases rose steadily, adding about three cases a day until May 20.
Since then, however, Athens has seen a noticeable uptick in the rate of newly reported cases. From May 21-June 7, total confirmed cases rose from 200 to 321, a rate of about 6.7 cases per day. This comes as cases in Georgia have plateaued since the end of April, even though testing has increased.
ACC hospitalizations are also up slightly, rising from 45 on May 31 to 51 on June 7.
However, it’s important to keep these numbers in perspective because Athens still remains in a better position than much of the rest of the state. As of June 7, ACC has 247 cases and 11.6 deaths per 100,000 people, far fewer than many counties in southwest Georgia. Randolph County, for example, has 2,710 cases and 281.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
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Georgia has so far managed to avoid a spike in newly-reported coronavirus cases since reopening. While cases have plateaued for the time being, recent events could lead to a new spike in cases both in Athens and Georgia.
First, Gov. Brian Kemp allowed bars and nightclubs to reopen on June 1. Kemp is requiring that bars must comply with 39 safety measures, such as limiting the number of people to 25 or 35% of the building’s fire capacity occupancy.
Athens is known for its extensive bar scene, so Kemp’s decision could be especially important to the Athens economy. The shutdown hurt bars’ bottom lines and Athens’ tax revenue. The bars’ reopening could provide a lifeline to the city’s finances but it also could lead to a spike in cases.
In addition, the recent Black Lives Matter protests have created large crowds where the coronavirus might be able to spread. Although many of the protesters have worn masks, their chants and coughing induced by tear gas may expose them to pathogens.
There is a delay of about two weeks between when a new outbreak starts and when the outbreak is reflected in the data due to the virus’ incubation period and the time it takes for test results to come back. Thus, we could start to see some of the effects of reopening bars and nightclubs toward the end of this week and the effects of the protests next week.